22 January 2012

Lessons in Music and Life from Yo-Yo Ma

"Do you believe in magic?" "Yes," she replied.

Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist, addressed Wei Shen, the second of three Kansas City area cello students who performed at a master class at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City Saturday. A master class allows music students to work with experts for a short time, often providing new insight and inspiration. The class on Saturday included a high-school student, a master's student, and a doctoral student, KU's own Hyerim Jeon.

During those two hours unfolded one of the most magical musical and educational experiences I have ever witnessed. Yo-Yo Ma transformed the playing of Alyssa Aubuchon in just a few minutes by getting her to engage with the audience and to focus on expressing specific emotions in her playing. He demonstrated the elegance that befits the Tchaikovsky piece played by Ms. Shen, escorting a little girl from the front row of the audience around the stage and pretending to greet various invisible friends, transforming the almost empty stage into a fancy party in the audience's mind. He encouraged Ms. Jeon to take rhythmical risks, and he made the historical perspective of the Elgar concerto she played come alive.

At one point he complimented Ms. Shen on her hard work, and then began to delve into a subject that he felt was important for future professional musicians, but that is just as relevant to the rest of us. He encouraged her to ask herself every day why she was going to be a musician today, and then to come up with magnificent reasons each day for doing what she does. This practice, Mr. Ma asserted, would lead to magic itself.

Yo-Yo Ma has the gift of being able to approach people at the right level and challenge them to move beyond themselves to a greater plane of being. He has the ability to make connections between people and to reach out to the audience while performing. His willingness to be gracious, funny, humble, and ridiculous at times yet completely serious at the right moments is what makes Mr. Ma so magical. He seems to embody the best of humanity, radiating an aura of love, humility, and pure joy that infectiously spreads to everyone around him.

While listening to him play the Dvořák Cello Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony on Saturday night, I was quite literally at the edge of my seat. Yo-Yo Ma is as relaxed and familiar with the cello as if it were an extension of himself. He barely looked down at his instrument, instead maintaining constant communication and contact with the conductor, orchestra, and audience. During the third movement of the concerto, he had a big smile on his face as he played the theme. He was enjoying himself so much that the audience could not help but be pulled in.

There is a big lesson to be learned from watching Mr. Ma at work. We humans seem to be in the constant search for happiness, and I don't think I've ever seen someone as happy doing what he does as Yo-Yo Ma. He must be following his own advice, finding magnificent reasons every day to reaffirm his calling. Do you love what you are doing? Are you doing what you love? Question yourself daily, and eventually magic may come of it.

1 comment:

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